Sunday, June 17, 2007

Axis of What? - Pfizer CEO to Go to North Korea

Here is a curious juxtaposition that nearly made it under the radar. Last month, the Nigerian government brought civil and criminal charges against Pfizer Inc, the world's largest drug company, for the actions it took during a controversial antibiotic trial 10 years ago. For example, per the Washington Post,

Officials in Nigeria have brought criminal charges against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for the company's alleged role in the deaths of children who received an unapproved drug during a meningitis epidemic.

Authorities in Kano, the country's largest state, filed eight charges this month related to the 1996 clinical trial, including counts of criminal conspiracy and voluntarily causing grievous harm. They also filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion in damages and restitution from Pfizer, the world's largest drug company.

This story first came into public view due to the Post's reporting in 2000. At that time, the Post noted,


The experiments raise questions about corporate ethics and profits on a frontier of globalization where drug companies wield enormous influence, and where doctors paid by U.S.-based corporations sometimes perform experiments on ill-informed patients in authoritarian societies.

A Nigerian physician who said he was present during the Kano experiment, for instance, felt it was "a bad thing," but he did not object because Pfizer's test appeared to have backing from the government. 'I could not protest,' said the physician, Amir Imam Yola. 'The system you have in America and the system we have here, there is a wide gap. Freedom of speech is still not here.'

At the time, Nigeria was run by a military government that had one of the world's worst human rights and corruption records.


Fast forward to 2007, and here is the report that sailed in barely over the radar,
via the Chosun Ilbo news service out of South Korea,


The CEO of pharma giant Pfizer, Jeffrey Kindler plans to visit North Korea. According to Pfizer’s Korean subsidiary on Tuesday, Kindler will arrive in South Korea for a two-day visit on Wednesday and plans to go to a hospital in the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North.

The CEO plans to visit the hospital in the Kaesong Industrial Complex with 40 executives on Thursday if he gets approval from the North Korean government through the South Korean Unification Ministry.

A Pfizer’s spokesman said Kindler was invited by Kim Dong-keun, the chairman of the Kaesong Industrial Complex committee. The CEO will inspect medical services in the industrial complex but has no plans to invest in or support North Korea.

North Korea, of course, has been branded part of the"axis of evil" by US President George W Bush for allegations of state sponsorship of terrorism.

The point of the visit by the CEO and 40 executives of Pfizer to a North Korean hospital is not clear. It seems that Pfizer's international operations have a curious affinity for dictatorial governments not known for protecting human rights, to put it very politely.

And pharmaceutical companies wonder why the public views them as "shifty?" Memo to the CEO, if you do not want your company to be viewed as shifty, avoid appearing too friendly to military dictatorships or governments labelled as supporting terrorism by the US government.

1 comment:

Richard Kim-Solloway said...

Please pass this on to friends and colleagues interested in issues of drug safety and reform of FDA drug approval processes.
THE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT (GAP) invites you to join us for “From Vioxx to Avandia: Whistleblowers and Dangerous Drugs” - a Live Telephone Conference Call with Q & A on Thursday, June 21st, at 6:00pm - 7:00pm eastern.
The call will feature David Ross, Ketek FDA whistleblower and Mark Cohen, GAP Food & Drug Safety Director.
To take part: email richards@whistleblower.org. To receive the call-in info by text message, please include the number in your email.
GAP has been involved in a number of prominent cases related to restricting the presence of dangerous drugs on the market, most notably Vioxx. The Vioxx scandal came to light when Dr David Graham, a top FDA scientist and GAP client, testified before a Congressional committee that Vioxx had likely caused as many American fatalities (heart attacks and strokes) as had the Vietnam war. Moreover, as it was structured, FDA could not be relied upon to protect the American public from future drug disasters.
Join us for a live conference call with David Ross, the former FDA medical officer who blew the whistle on the mishandling of the approval process for the antibiotic Ketek, and Mark Cohen, GAP food and drug safety director.
The revelations that Dr. Ross and others made resulted in significant restrictions in the approved uses for Ketek.
The recent controversy over the diabetes drug Avandia seems to confirm Dr Graham’s critique of the agency’s culture and processes. Reforms being discussed by Congress right now could go some way toward changing the way the agency balances the interests of rapidly bringing new drugs to market and the interests of ensuring that news drugs are truly safe and effective.
Join us on this live conference call to get the latest update on the progress of these reforms and to put questions directly to David Ross and Mark Cohen regarding our work on Drug Safety and the experience of being a whistleblower within the FDA
For call-in details, email richards@whistleblower.org.